December 19, 2014

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‘Foreclosure dogs’ latest casualty in lending crisis

COLUMBUS — The mortgage crisis unfolding around the country, particularly in hard-hit states like Ohio, often has an unpublicized victim: the family dog.

Nearly 20 percent of the 182 people who deposited dogs at the Franklin County Dog Shelter by the middle of December this year said they were being evicted.

“There’s even a national term for it: ‘foreclosure dogs,’ ” said Lisa Wahoff, the shelter’s director. “We started seeing it more about 18 months ago, people writing ‘foreclosure’ or ‘financial reasons’ on their surrender forms.”

The number of foreclosures filed in Franklin County is rising by about 2,200 a year. Last year, it jumped to 8,875. Last week, the Franklin shelter recorded its own record number — 360 dogs in a building meant to hold 250. About half were surrendered because of their owners’ economic problems.

In December 2005, when foreclosures were lower in the county, only 12 owners surrendered their dogs. Last December, 209 were turned in, 28 of which came during the four days before Christmas.

Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy said foreclosure dogs tell the bigger story.

“That’s an incredible marker when you’re giving up a member of your family,” she said.

Charity Mead had to give up Rocky, a 5-year-old rat terrier mix, and “Precious,” a 2-year-old German shepherd mix. The mother of two who cleans houses for living was first out of work, and then out of her Gahanna apartment.

“It took me a good month to stop crying over Rocky and Precious,” Mead said. “I made my husband take them to the dog shelter. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was like giving up one of your kids. But I didn’t have anywhere to keep them.”

Pet expenses can become the tipping point for Ohioans struggling with money during troubled economic times. The average dog costs $750 to $1,000 a year for such basics as food, veterinary care and toys, said Susan Smith, the Franklin shelter’s director of community relations. Mead estimates that she spent $200 a month on her two dogs.

Shelter employees say they are eager to help pet owners avoid the tearful scenes in shelter lobbies as people say goodbye to their dogs.

“If you’re going to go into foreclosure, call the shelter early so you can get your ducks in a row,” Wahoff said. “Don’t wait. We can help.”

Owners may be able to keep their pets at home while the county advertises them for adoption, Wahoff said. With enough notice, the shelter might be able to move the dog from its old home directly to its new home, skipping days or weeks at the shelter, which could be traumatic for the animal.